Thandai Thai Irundal

If you had parents, would you have been brought to such lows? While one man hit you with stones, another kicked you with his feet, yet another hit you with a bow, and one cut you with an axe, another one called you a madman and the Pandya king of Madurai hit you with a cane! When these things happened, of whom were you thinking,  O Lord?

Lord ShivaOn first reading, does it shock you that this song is actually in praise of Lord Shiva? We are all so used to songs singing the glories of God and here is Gopalakrishna Bharathi writing of all the insults meted out to Him! An excellent device to grab our attention, don’t you think?   Yet each of these incidents have a story of the Lord’s greatness in the background. This kind of backhanded praise of the Lord is called nindA stuti.

Lord Shiva being svayambhu or self-born has no parents so he may be called an orphan.  Orphans seldom get treated fairly in our society and the poet points out all the times in which the Lord was seemingly ill-treated. In the end, he asks ‘when all this happened, whom did you think of?’. When in trouble, you may exclaim ‘Oh God’ in English or some curse word but in Indian languages, one often refers to one’s mother or father (amma, for example). So whose name would an orphan take? The poet’s clever question bring us back to the the main refrain of the song, ‘if you had a father and a mother, would you have been brought to such lows in this world, O Lord?’.

Why write songs like this? You may wonder, just as I do. My theory is that those who are believers also have a constant fear that the Lord will reject them based on their behaviour. Songs like this give us solace by reminding us that our Lord is very accommodating when it comes to his bhaktas.

The poet brings out a number of incidents from various stories and legends to illustrate his point. I have given a short synopsis of these incidents for your knowledge and interest.

One who hit the Lord with stones : This refers to Sakkiya Nayanar who was a Buddhist but came to be a great devotee of Shiva. When he comes upon Lord Shiva’s temple at Tirucchangamangai, he is overcome with love for God and without realising what he is doing, he picks up a stone and flings it at the Lord as if he were pelting flowers. This then becomes a daily habit. One day, realising he was starting to eat without first pelting the Lord, he goes running to the temple. His devotion moves the Lord who appears in person to bless him.

One who kicked the Lord with his feet : This refers to Kannappa Nayanar. It is said that one day he notices that one eye of the Shiva Linga is oozing blood and tears. Thinking that the Lord’s eyes are injured, he plucks out his own eye with an arrow and places it in place of the Linga’s eye. Next the other eye starts oozing blood. Placing his toe in position of the second eye, so that he would know where it was once he became blind, he starts to pluck out his other eye. The Lord appears to stop him and bless him, restoring both his eyes.

One who hit the Lord with a bow : This refers to an incident from the Mahabharata. Arjuna goes to the Himalayas to perform austerities and obtain the weapon Pashupatastra from Lord Shiva. The Lord is pleased and appears in the form of a hunter (kirATa). To test Arjuna, he shoots an arrow at a boar at the same time that Arjuna does. Disputing over who shot the arrow first, they descend to a fight. Arjuna, the best of warriors, is surprised that he cannot defeat the humble hunter. Finally recognizing the Lord, he surrenders to him. He is then blessed with the weapon he seeks.

One who called the Lord a madman : This refers to Sundarar, also called Sundaramoorthy Nayanar. It is said that on the day Sundarar was to be wed, an old man comes to stop the wedding claiming that  Sundarar was his slave. Sundarar, who was from a good and wealthy family, mocks him as a madman, as one possessed. This goes to court and the old man produces a document substantiating his claim. When asked to show his house, the old man leads them to the temple and disappears. He then appears as Lord Shiva to Sundarar and blesses him, saying that he was destined to be a slave to God.

One who hit the Lord with a cane : This is an incident from the story about the great devotional poet, Manikkavachagar. When the Vaigai river starts overflowing, the Pandya king of Madurai orders all citizens to either labour or pay for the labour to build dikes. An old lady called Pittuvani Ammaiyar, a devotee of our Lord, is troubled because she does not have the money to hire someone to do her share. The Lord, hearing her distress, comes as a labourer and offers to do the job for the price of some pittu, the food that she makes and sells. He takes the pittu and goes to the dikes but instead of completing the job, he does nothing. The king who comes to inspect is infuriated and hits the labourer with a cane. Instead of hurting him, this recoils on the king and everyone around. The king at once realises that this is the Lord and is aghast. The Lord vanishes and a voice comes from the heavens for the king to release Mannickavachagar, the great devotee of Shiva, whom the king has imprisoned. Pittuvani Ammaiyar too is released from this earth on the same day.

One who cut Lord Shiva with an axe : Once, Lord Shiva challenged Parashurama to a battle to test his skills in warfare. They engaged in a fierce battle for twenty one days. While ducking to avoid being hit by the Trident (Trishūl) of Lord Shiva, Parashurama a vigorously attacked him with his axe. It struck Lord Shiva on the forehead creating a wound. Lord Shiva was very pleased to see the skills of his disciple and embraced him.  Lord Shiva preserved this wound as an ornament in honour of his disciple; ‘Khanda-parshu’ (wounded by Parashu) is one of the thousand names of Lord Shiva. 

I am indebted to where I found much of this information. A reader kindly helped me with pointing out the last story.

This song is set to raga Shanmukhapriya. To know more about this raga, click here. To present this song, I have chosen an old recording of N.C.Vasanthakokilam (1919-1951). A Carnatic Musician and an actress, she popularised many songs of Gopalakrishna Bharathi, including our song choice of today. This is historically important as there was, until even the 1940’s, a certain resistance to singing Tamil songs in Carnatic Music. Charsur has an interesting article on the subject of Tamil Isai movement; to read click here.

Footnote (Lyrics and Translation) :

Composer : Gopalakrishna Bharathi
Raga : Shanmukhapriya
Language : Tamil

தந்தை தாய் இருந்தால் உலகத்தில் உமக்கிந்த
தாழ்வெல்லாம்  வருமோ அய்யா – பெற்ற

அந்த மிகுந்த ஸ்ரீ அம்பல வாணரே  (unsure about this line)
Alternate : அந்தமில் நடம் செய்யும் அம்பல வாணரே
அருமை உடனே பெற்று பெருமை உடன் வளர்த்த

கல்லால் ஒருவன் அடிக்க -உடல் சிலிர்க்க
காலின் (Alt:காலில்) செருப்பால் ஒரு வேடன் வந்தே (Alt:வந்து) உதைக்க
வில்லால் ஒருவன் அடிக்க -காண்டீபம் என்னும் (Alt:என்ற)
கூசாமல் ஒருவன் கை கோடாலியால் வெட்ட
கூட்டத்தில் ஒருவன் பித்தா பேயா என திட்ட
வீசி மதுரை மாறன் பிரம்பால் அடிக்க
அந்த வேளை யாரை நினைந்தீரோ அய்யா

Transliteration :

tandai tAi irundAl ulagattil umakkinda
tAzhvellAm varumO ayyA – peTRa

anda migunda shrI ambala vANarE
Alternate: andamil natam seyyum ambala vANarE
arumai uDanE petru perumai uDan vaLartta

kallAl oruvan aDikka -uDal silirkka
kAlin (Alt: kAlil) seruppAl oru vEDan vandE (Alt:vandu) udaikka
villAl oruvan aDikka –gANDibam ennum (Alt: endra)
kUsAmal oruvan kai kODAliyAl veTTa
kUTTattil oruvan pittA pEyA ena tiTTa
vIsi madurai mAran pirambAl aDikka
anda vELai yArai ninaindIrO ayyA

Translation :

If you had (irundAl=if there had been) a father (tandai) and a mother (tAi), would you have been brought to such lows (tAzhvu) (treated so badly) in this world (ulagattil) O Lord (ayya)?

Resident (vANar) of that (anda) prosperous (migunda srI) Chidambaram (ambalam) [Alternate : That resident of Chidambaram who dances (natam seyyum) at the End (andam)], if you had been born (peTRu) dear (arumai) to your parents (implied) and brought up with pride (perumai) (would you have been brought to such lows?)

While one man (oruvan) hit you (aDikka) with stones (kallAl), body (uDal) horripilating ie. getting goose-bumps (silirkka), while another hunter (vEDan) came (vandu) and kicked you (udaikka) with the shoes on his feet (kAlin seruppAl), while yet another hit you (aDikka) with his bow (villAl) called Gandibam (=Gandiva), another one cut you (veTTa) without hesitation (kUsAmal) with an axe (kODali),  while another abused (tiTTa) you publicly (kUTTattil = in a crowd)  as mad (pittA) and possessed (pEyA), while the Pandya King of Madurai threw (vIsi) a bamboo cane (pirambAl) and hit you (aDikka), at that time (anda vELai) whom (yArai) did you remember (ninaindIRo) O Lord (ayya) ?


Filed under Carnatic Music, Compositions in Tamil, Gopalakrishna Bharathi, N.C.Vasanthakokilam

27 responses to “Thandai Thai Irundal

  1. Chandramouli Subramanian

    Thank you for sharing such a lovely song by Gopalakrishna Bharathi. It is said that the only book the great seer Ramana Maharishi of Thiruvannamalai read was Sekkizhar’s Periya Puranam. What devotion the Nayanars had! I am a Tamilian in Mumbai with just a smattering knowledge of Tamil. I learn a great deal about my own mother-tongue from you. Thanks a million again.

    • It is a lovely song, isn’t it? I am glad you liked it! Reading about the Azhwars and Nayanars is always interesting and enlightening. You made me laugh about your comment re learning about Tamil and our land from me 🙂 You see, I am a Tamil brought up in Delhi, married to a Bengali and living outside India for the last 30 years – I make a poor teacher indeed! I’ve never been schooled in Tamil, my mother taught me the alphabets and the rest I taught myself. But yes, we can all learn together and from each other so that we do not forget the blood-ties with this old land that we call our own.
      Cheers. Suja

  2. Ramesh

    Very nice song and a great exposition. Following you, I realise I can appreciate much more when you feature a Tamil song which I can understand than say a Telugu song, even when translated, as I don’t understand the original language.

    By the way your response to Chandramouli’s comment – you couldn’t be more wrong regarding your “qualifications” for being a teacher. You have the knack of a teacher which no schooling can impart.

    • Thank you Ramesh 🙂 Me too, I do enjoy Tamil and Sanskrit Carnatic compositions more as I understand them better. Yet, I have grown up listening (without understanding) kritis in Telugu and Kannada, and though I do not understand them equally well, they set up a resonance in me. Ah, I find it hard to explain..its like they are tuning forks which vibrate the same notes in my heart! So they too don’t feel foreign any more..

      You are kind Ramesh. It is my privilege to share what little I know of music with all my readers.
      Cheers. Suja

  3. Narasimharaj

    To present this song, I have chosen an old recording of N.C.Vasanthakokilam (1919-1951).
    Suja, I think I once expressed hope that you’d present a song by NCV. I’m glad done it now – with an incomparable composition sung by an equally incomparable singer NCV (who, I remember was referred to as ‘Kokila Vaani Vasantha Kokilam’) Alas, She died too young.
    I remember listening to many of her songs on the old GE 3 valve radio that my father had in the 40s!
    Thanks to you, memories have flown in!
    As for the Composition itself, ‘here is Gopalakrishna Bharathi writing of all the insults meted out to Him! An excellent device to grab our attention, don’t you think? Yet each of these incidents have a story of the Lord’s greatness in the background.
    ‘ – and it is for the first time in my life I’m reading the ‘storie’ – so briefly presented by you.! Yes, rightly you’ve termed the Composition as ‘nindA stuti. May the Lord be pleased by your sharing this ‘Post’-
    Best Wishes.

    • Hello again! Yes, I finally got around to presenting NCV in my blog. I was waiting for just the right song to inspire me… The truth us, I do not listen so much to that era of music, not because I don’t like it, but because the recording quality is often not great. I take great pleasure in ‘crisp’ sounding recordings, and unfortunately one seldom finds that in really old music.

      As to the lyrics, it triggers memories of many stories so its enjoyable on multiple levels, don’t you think? Though I knew some of these stories from before, I didn’t know all so it was fun researching for my write-up 🙂
      cheers. Suja

  4. Dhanum Pillay

    looking for Lord Shiva’s Thai Nadu song

  5. Hi Suja

    The story of the person who axed Lord shiva is about Lord Parashurama an ardent disciple of Lord Shiva from whom he acquired divine weapons. Once the Lord challenged Parashuram to a battle to test his pupils skills. The battle lasted for 21 days and while avoiding a hit from the trident of the Lord, Parashuram countered and vigorously attacked Lord Shiva with his Parashu axe, wounding the Lord on the forehead. Pleased with his pupils skill in warfare, he embraced him and retained that wound as an ornament so that the reputation of his disciple remained imperishable. Lord shiva is hence also known as Khandha Parashu (wounded by Parashu) as one of his thousand names.

    • Thank you so very much for sharing this story! ! I should have guessed when it is an axe that it would be connected to Parusharama, shouldn’t I!! I will incorporate your story in the main body of the post when I next have some time, but all credit to you for your help, thank you again!
      Cheers. Suja

  6. Thanks for this beautiful labour of love. Well researched, even if I thought a little clinical in reasoning. I listen to Bombay Jayashree render this song this morning as I’m getting the kids ready for school, and I stand transfixed. What stuns me is the kind of relationship the poet must have with his God, for being able to commiserate with him – say “aiyoh paavum”!! The intimacy, almost like he is talking to a family member!! This song, this composition redefines for me, the contours of the kind of relationship that is possible with ones God. 🙂

    • Thank you for your comment! Indeed I am a bit clinical in this post, aren’t I! I try and vary my approach from song to song so that I don’t bore my readers with the same ol’ same ol’ 🙂 You are right, this song does show a certain intimacy of relationship between the poet and God which is very appealing..
      Cheers. Suja

  7. K.Swaminathan

    Hi Suja mam, Your explanation to this song is superb. Regarding cutting Lord Shiva with an axe, the explanation is already given by Carnaticmusiclifeline and also acknowledged by you. Sadly , N.C.Vasanthakokilam died at a very young age (32 years) and I feel bad that there are no videos of her since at that time video technology might have been non existent.If you do have any video of her, by chance, please upload for us. My siblings and I have been born and educated in Calcutta, now Kolkata, and it gives us the thrill of anything Bengali. Nice to know that you have married a Benali gentleman.Can you share his name please? God bless.

    • Welcome to my blog! Thank you for your kind words. It is indeed a pity that many wonderful performances are lost to us forever as the technology was either not available or not accessible by all. I do not have any videos of Vasanthakokilam, sorry! Yes indeed, I am married to a Bengali for nearly 35 years!! His name is Indranath. Naturally, I have a great affection for the culture and people of Bengal.
      Cheers, Suja

  8. K.Swaminathan

    Hi Suja mam. Aapni Bangla Bolte Paren? Kemon Aachen.Ekane aamra shob balo aachi.Mam which part of the world are you? Many people who have stayed abroad have forgotten their roots. I have a few relatives who belong to this category. I am really happy to note that even though you are staying abroad for the past 30 years, still you have explained the meaning of a song sung by N.C.Vasathkokolam, maybe some 50 years before. We have to thank All India Radio for being able to hear her voice.One more thing mam.Is your name actually Sujata and you write Suja for short. Keep in touch.All the very best. God Bless.

    • Nischoy, bangla khub bhalo bolte pari 🙂 I speak fluently, in fact if I don’t say so Bengalis don’t pick me for a non-Bengali. I am surprised to hear of your relatives. In my experience, people who live outside India cling to their roots even more than those who remain in India!! But of course there is a many ways I am very ‘foreign’ – in my attitude towards work, towards cleanliness, towards my attitude to other cultures-people-lifestyles-religions, oh so many different things!! I have spent almost all my adult life outside India, my attitudes are of course much influenced by the world I live in. But still in some things, I cling to Indian ways – my faith, my food, my music – these remain unchanged.
      Suja (Sujata)

  9. Hello Madam,

    Consider editing your blog with the explanation provided for completion as per one of the responses posted.

    It is indeed brilliant way of showing one’s devotion towards to Lord Shiva. What a flow starting at high octane and taking his for a joy ride. Everytime I listen to this song, it just stays in my mind forcing me to ruminate through the night.


  10. RSR

    Madam, If you avoid the 78 rpm records, you are missing the BEST of the songs by MS, DKP, NCV, . I consider them as the real trinity. MS born in 1916, DKP in 1919, and NCV in 1920. ..NCVsanthakokiklam had a very fine voice and knowledge. She was my mother’s favourite singer ( my mother was born in 1917). Luckily, saregama has placed a number of old records of NCV in youtube. NCV sang many fine songs in Haridas movie and Subramanya Barathy songs too though she mainly sang Suddhananda Baratrhy creations. Have a look at . She was second to none in classiucal songs.

  11. Sundar

    Awesome and thanks very much …big fan of this song and now I will enjoy this better …🙏🙏🙏

  12. I am a Kannadiga only in name. As my ancestors had moved to the Coimbatore and surrounding areas of the then Madras province, our Kannada is basic. People in Karnataka would laugh if we speak Kannada. My early education was in Tamil medium. Circumstances pitchforked me to AP and from Third Form onwards my education was in English medium.
    Later, my career required knowledge and use of the English language. Yet my love for Tamil stayed with me and today after retirement I happen to have many Tamil writers as my friends because of my love for literature.
    I love to listen to live music concerts. I live in an area in Madras where some six well-known concert halls are within easy reach.
    Oh, at every concert I would yearn for that single Tamil song that might come – or not!
    (more to follow)

  13. OK.
    Early in January a friend presented me with a CUB* diary. What would I write in it?
    An idea occurred to me – to write – and revel in – sahitya of Tamil songs!
    So far I have written down lrics of 80 songs – my aim is to touch 100 and take a break!
    Amazing! Every time I typed the first words of a song, your blog came uppermost among the search results. What fantastic work you have done! I am sure this kind of stray adulation from an ordinary person somewhere around the globe should give you utmost satisfaction.
    Today I dredged the line from my mind-well and after I read your piece I thought I should congratulate you before I continue my work-pleasure. Be assured that every time I enjoyed reading, forgetting ‘oon’ and.’urakkam’ – the breakfast that my wife brought into my room is waiting!

  14. I have just seen an advertisement in the paper about a programme this evening – a demo-concert with the theme “Sangeetha sahitya anubhaam: Tamil compositions” by Neyveli Santhanagopalan. I am looking forward to it. Lastly, the Bengali connection. My wife was born and lived in Calcutta till she married me. After 49 years her heart is still there (luckily she didn’t desert me – since 1958 I am rooted in the same place in Gopalapuram, Chennai).
    Thanks. All the best to you!

    *CUB- City Union Bank

    • Welcome to my blog! Thank you very much, for your appreciation and for sharing your story with me. Some comments on what you have shared –
      “I am a Kannadiga only in name” – what does it take to ‘be’ a certain ethnicity? I don’t know. I call myself a Tamil but I have never lived in Tamizh Nadu, I have never studied in Tamil, I am ignorant of popular cultural trends, and I do not follow all the cultural norms which makes one Tamil. And anyway, I don’t think there is just one Tamil culture but multiple ones. Who can decide what we are but ourselves? It seems to me that you have more right to call yourself Tamil than I have! I too enjoy Tamil songs in concerts but I found to my surprise that I do not enjoy a whole concert made up of only Tamil songs!! I haven’t yet figured out why…
      “So far I have written down lyrics of 80 songs” – What a good idea! Perhaps you can add notes in your diary as to which performances of the song you have loved best and what does the song mean to you personally. This would be a treasure for your future generations when they too reach an age of maturity and would like to know who you were!
      “the Bengali connection” 🙂 Those who have lived in Calcutta or Kolkata have a lasting love for it. I am a nomad and have no sense of belonging anywhere or with any any cultural group, so I envy those who have that sense of belonging!
      Cheers. Suja

      • Rishi

        Thanks. In the notebook in which I am writing down lyrics of Tamil songs, I have now crossed 105. (No, I didn’t take any break at 80.) Among these are three or four songs that I heard when 78rpm records were played on HMV gramophone by elders some five decades ago in my grandfather’s house in CBE. Some lines stayed in my mind from that time even though I have not heard them from any singer on stage all these years. One pucca Telugu kriti from that time is eluding me but the sweet melody might come one day, I hope..
        One compliment that I must record: Your translation of Tamil songs is very good. As one who has some published work in the area of Tamil to English translation , I truly appreciate it.

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